Column: Uncovering Jerusalem’s Ancient City of David: Exploring King David’s Palace and Stepped Stone Structure


In our continuing tour of Israel and the Palestinian Territories, we come to Jerusalem, an ancient city important to Jews, Christians and Muslims. Today we will visit a site that some archaeologists believe goes back to the time of biblical King David.

According to the Bible, David captured Jerusalem from the Jebusites in the 10th century B.C., and made it the capital of a kingdom uniting the 12 Tribes of Israel. People today probably imagine Jerusalem at the time as a great city, reflecting their view of David’s United Monarchy.  However, most scholars believe that David’s Jerusalem occupied a narrow hilltop strip comprising no more than 10 acres, with a population of perhaps 2,000. This area, now called the City of David, was southeast of Mount Moriah, where King Solomon later built the first Jewish Temple across the Kidron Valley from the Mount of Olives.

Excavations in the City of David area began in the 19th century. In the 1920s, archaeologists discovered a 60-foot-high terraced structure made of stone along the eastern side of the hill, overlooking the Kidron Valley. The purpose of this structure, labeled the Stepped Stone Structure, has long been a mystery. In 2005, Dr. Eliat Mazar, an Israeli archaeologist, reported that she had found another stone structure, just as unimaginatively called the Large Stone Structure, supported by the Stepped Stone Structure. With great fanfare, she said she had found King David’s palace. Other archaeologists quickly disagreed, saying that there would not be a palace in such a small “hill-country village” at the time of David.

The site of Dr. Mazar’s excavations has become a popular tourist destination in Jerusalem. Guides point out that whatever the purpose of the Stepped Stone Structure, the square stone found at its lower right-hand corner, with a hole in the center, is undoubtedly a latrine.


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